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Quarantines and Blockchain in Seoul

André Kaufmann, Business Information Technology student in Olten, spent the autumn semester of 2020 at Hanyang University in Seoul (South Korea). Despite being quarantined three times and missing his return flight, he has good memories of his time there.

In 2018 I graduated from the commercial secondary school in Baden and regretted not having chosen to focus on computer science and learn programming. When I finished my military service in the infantry academy of Birmensdorf ZH, I wanted to study in a university of applied sciences. Although another university is only 30 minutes away from where I live, I decided to study in Olten because the FHNW has great international connections and I can develop my international network. It was always clear to me that I wanted to do a semester abroad in Asia, and therefore I put up with 90 minutes of travelling by train every morning and evening.

On my top 10 list, Korea was number 1

In Korea, gaming is a mass sport and strongly anchored in every-day culture. The most successful gamers are superstars, as popu-lar as Roger Federer is here in Switzerland. As a passionate gam-er, this has always fascinated me because my entire circle of close friends also play competitive games regularly. I wanted to go abroad in the third semester, so I had to draw up my ‘Top 10’ list. I put down Korea as number 1 and Japan as number 2. Since there is only a limited amount of slots for Swiss students, it came down to my grade point average and my letter of motivation. Because of Covid and the uncertainties associated with it, most students in my class decided against a semester abroad; only two more went ahead: one person each to Poland and Finland. I am not really afraid of the virus because I think it is only threatening older and immunocompromised people but my 75-year-old father is in the risk group as well.

First quarantine after arrival

Climatically, my arrival in mid-August was a shock: tropical, humid and hot, the sweat made your clothes stick to your body. I only found out how strict the measures against Covid were in South Korea once I was there. The school told us we were not allowed to stay in the flat we had rented. We were obliged to stay in the "Kuratekaso", a quarantine hotel that cost every student an additional CHF 1500. We only had the choice between a normal and a vegetarian menu, and shrimps, fish and octopus were also considered "vegetarian". Everything was very spicy, especially the national side dish "Kim-Chi". We passed the time with "Kakao-Talk", the Asian version of "WhatsApp" and used the forums to exchange ideas with the other students who were stuck in quarantine as well.

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Korean lessons after quarantine two

Before we were finally released after two weeks, we had to take another Covid test. Afterwards, we arranged to meet in a group of 20 to 25 people for our first meal outside - in a chicken restaurant. The day after, it turned out that the test of an US-American woman who was with us was positive. Immediately we were all "locked in" again but this time we were allowed to stay in our own accommodation and choose for ourselves what we wanted to eat, using online delivery.

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Like in Switzerland, classes in Korea were online. I only went to Hanyang University two or three times for the essentials, including the pick up of my ID. All exchange students spoke English, even the few Koreans. The lectures were held via Zoom, similar to Switzerland, but the examination system was more convenient because there were "midterm" and "endterm" examinations, so all the examination material was divided into two parts. Overall, we had less to do than in Switzerland, although this also varied depending on each course: "Introduction to blockchain" required hours of programming, while marketing was more about the basic

Instead of a flight home, quarantine three

As soon as the second quarantine ended, we spent the weekends exploring Seoul. Due to the strict government restrictions, everything was open in Korea and we could move around freely, while Switzerland was on lockdown at the time. In Seoul, which has around the same number of inhabitants as Switzerland, there were only 400 to 500 new cases per day. We went to bars and clubs or on hiking trips almost every weekend.

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For my return flight I needed a negative Covid PCR test. On 25 January I went to a hospital to take it. When I was about to head to the airport the next morning, I received a message on my phone, saying I was "positive". So my third quarantine in Korea started. Everything was very professional: I received calls from government officials and had to answer a huge list of questions to track my activities of the last ten days. All the people I named were quarantined and the bars and shops I had been to were closed.

Right after I had been picked up by ambulance they took me to a "treatment facility". Government specialists came in overalls and disinfected my whole flat as if it was contaminated with nuclear waste! It reminded me of a scene straight out of an action movie. At the treatment centre everyone was very friendly and competent. This third quarantine fortunately didn't cost me anything because I had been in Korea for a few months already.

Two weeks later, the return flight to Switzerland and the "happy ending" finally went ahead. I also got a refund for my original flight home because I had proof of the positive PCR test result. Without the support of my German girlfriend Melissa Tükeler, who was studying at Hanyang University as well and is fluent in Korean, it would have been almost impossible to survive. Thank you!

"For me it was a great semester!"

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